A man charged in the 2016 slaying of a Marion County, Tennessee, man was sentenced Tuesday to 38 years in prison.
Cody Waggoner, 22 when arrested in August 2017, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in Marion County Circuit Court, where he was set to begin a murder trial Tuesday in the killing of 23-year-0ld Bradley Aaron Powell, court officials said.
Court records show Waggoner originally was charged with first-degree murder but pleaded guilty to the reduced charge of second-degree murder and was sentenced as a "multiple offender" by Circuit Court Judge Thomas W. Graham.
Steve Strain, assistant district attorney in the 12th Judicial District who prosecuted the case with fellow assistant district attorney Sherry Shelton, said Waggoner "has to serve 85 percent calendar time of the sentence before he is eligible for parole." That means he won't become eligible for parole for more than 30 years.
"If a jury had come back with [a] second-degree murder [conviction], his sentencing range was 15-25 [years]. If he was convicted of first-degree, he would have had parole eligibility at 51 years," Strain said.
The family was consulted in the plea deal, but Strain said their reaction to the sentence was mixed.
"His mother was satisfied with it. She was happy that the case was resolved," Strain said Wednesday. "He has a stepmother who I don't think is very happy with the agreement."
Powell was reported missing on Dec. 9, 2016. In the weeks after his disappearance, searchers on the ground and in the air combed mountains along the south end of the Hamilton-Marion county line and Tennessee River looking for him. At the time, Chattanooga police said the disappearance was suspicious because Powell normally stayed in regular contact with his family.
On Feb. 3, 2017, a body was discovered in a shallow grave on Lookout Mountain in Georgia. Chattanooga police said at the time they suspected it was related to a missing persons case they were investigating. The remains were later identified as those of Powell. Strain said Wednesday that Walker County authorities found the body after a family member told investigators where to look.
Waggoner's cellphone records on Dec. 8, 2017, "actually triangulate him at that property, basically at the site where the body was buried," Strain said. Phone records also placed Waggoner on River Canyon Road in Marion County where he said the slaying took place.
River Canyon Road is a narrow track along the Tennessee River that runs between Suck Creek Road in Hamilton County and the area known as Mullins Cove in Marion County.
After the plea Tuesday, Waggoner was taken into custody at the Marion County Jail while he awaits a space in a Tennessee Department of Correction facility, officials said.
Contact staff writer Ben Benton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton or at www.facebook.com/benbenton1.